How can anyone in California think that bats are scary?
Despite what you see in the movies, these fascinating flying mammals wouldn’t hurt a fly! Well, technically, they would hurt a fly, or a mosquito, or a moth. But other than that, bats are harmless. 🙂
Did you know there are 22 kinds of bats in California?
It’s hard to believe the diversity and amount of species that can be found in California! But, unfortunately, when you see a bat, it’s typically pretty difficult to determine which kind of bat it is. These nocturnal creatures fly incredibly fast and are only active at night.
#1. Big Brown Bat
- Eptesicus fuscus
- Larger-sized bat with around a 12-inch wingspan.
- Brown fur with black ears, wings, and feet. Wings are hairless.
Big Brown Bats are widespread all over California.
If you look, you’ll find these bats inside caves, tunnels, or other human structures.
Big Brown Bat Range Map
This nocturnal bat primarily eats insects, especially ones that fly at night. However, their preference is to eat beetles.
The Cucumber Beetle is their favorite, which benefits farmers because these insects are terrible pests for agriculture. Many farmers in California even use bat boxes to attract Big Brown Bats to their property!
Though rabies is common in all bats, research has shown the disease is rarer in this species.
The reason for this fact is that many Big Brown Bats have immunity to rabies. Interestingly, researchers discovered that these rabies antibodies get passed down from generation to generation!
#2. Hoary Bat
- Lasiurus cinereus
- Brown hair with grayish-white tips. Wings and belly are brown and hairless, with a wingspan approximately 15.5 inches.
- Males are almost double the size of females.
You’ll typically find Hoary Bats roosting on trees in woodland forests. But occasionally, they will go into caves to stay with other bats.
Hoary Bat Range Map
This species prefers to hunt for prey while flying over wide-open areas or lakes. Hoary Bats hunt alone and enjoy eating moths. They’re known to travel up to 24 miles in a single night to gather food!
Though the Hoary Bat is not endangered, it does suffer a loss in numbers because of wind turbines. Hoarys’ migrate each year back and forth from North America to Central America, and it’s thought that they confuse the wind turbine with being a tree as they seek a place to rest. As you can imagine, these bats meet a horrible death.
#3. Silver-haired Bat
- Lasionycteris noctivagans
- Medium-sized bat, flathead, and the upper part of the tail are covered in thick fur.
- Mostly black all over with white tips on hairs, with a wingspan that is approximately 11.5 inches.
This species is known to fly more slowly than other bats in California.
Look for Silver-haired Bats in forests inside tree cavities or bark crevices. They’ve also been known to seek shelter in outbuildings.
Silver-haired Bat Range Map
Silver-haired Bats hunt for soft-bodied insects, such as moths. Interestingly, they also eat a lot of spiders. They accomplish this feat by foraging low to the ground to find food, unlike many other bats.
Unfortunately, rabies occurs more often in this species when compared to other bats.
#4. Townsend’s Big-eared Bat
- Corynorhinus townsendii
- Medium-sized bat with extraordinarily long and thin ears. Lumps on each side of the nose.
- Dense fur all over, colors vary from grayish brown to brown. Their wingspan is approximately 12 to 13 inches.
It’s pretty easy to see how these bats got their name! Their large ears are essential, as they help them distinguish between ambient noise and sounds of prey or predators.
Townsend’s Big-eared Bat Range Map
During summer, males and females inhabit different roosting sites. Males live alone, while females form colonies where they raise their pups.
This species is known as a “whisper bat” because it echolocates much lower than other bats. This comes in handy when foraging on moths because moths can hear bats’ echolocation. So, as you can see, being quieter gives Townsend’s Big-eared Bat an advantage.
#5. Mexican Free-tailed Bat
- Tadarida brasiliensis
- Smaller bat with gray fur on front and back, face, ears, wings, and legs are light black.
- Ears are short and rounded with lines inside and ruffled on the bottom.
- Wings are elongated and narrow with pointed tips. Their wingspan is approximately 12 to 14 inches.
The Mexican Free-tailed Bat is the fastest in California!
Their long narrow wings help make them quick and have direct flight patterns while catching their flying prey. They also use echolocation to help to navigate in the night sky.
Mexican Free-tailed Bat Range Map
This species primarily roosts in caves, but they can be found in any structure with an opening and dark hiding place.
Mexican Free-tailed Bats have glands in their skin that cover their body. These glands leave a scent that other bats can smell, so they know that this roost is only for the Mexican Free-tailed Bats.
#6. Big Free-tailed Bat
- Nyctinomops macrotis
- Fur can vary in color from pale, reddish-brown, or blackish. Glossy in color.
- Wings are thin, long, and narrow. Their wingspan is approximately 16.4 to 17.2 inches.
This bat primarily lives in rugged and rocky terrain in California, where it stays inside crevices. However, you can also find them roosting in plants or trees, such as a Douglas fir, ponderosa pines, and desert shrubs. Every year, they migrate to Mexico.
Big Free-tailed Bat Range Map
The Big Free-tailed Bat is nocturnal and only leaves its roost after the sun goes down to search for food. They mainly eat giant moths but also hunt ground insects like crickets and stinkbugs.
While Big Free-tailed Bats are hunting, you can hear their loud chatter.
This species is a strong flyer and tends to wander, which sometimes means they are in residential homes. Though the Big Free-tailed Bat is not aggressive, it will bite if cornered or handled.
#7. Western Small-footed Myotis
- Myotis ciliolabrum
- Smaller bat, with yellowish-brown fur and sometimes white underparts.
- The muzzle, chin, and ears are black. Ears are also long. Their wingspan is approximately 8 to 10 inches.
- Feet are tiny, just as their name suggests.
The Western Small-footed Bat is found in semi-arid habitats in California.
Though this bat is a slower flyer, it can maneuver well. The Western Small-footed Bat tends to feed close to the water, searching for insects like beetles, moths, and flies.
Western Small-footed Bat Range Map
Western Small-footed Bat females roost in groups, and males roost alone, but both hibernate in winter in solitude.
#8. Long-legged Bat
- Myotis Volans
- Fur color can vary from light or dark brown to reddish-brown. Tips of ears touch the side of their nose. Wingspan is approximately 10 to 12 inches.
- Unlike other bats, they have fur on the underside of their wings from their elbows to their knees.
- They got their name from having a longer tibia bone when compared to other bats.
The Long-legged Bat has unique feet that allow them to hang upside down for an extended time and not waste any energy. This feat is accomplished by locking their toes in place. In addition, special cavities in their head prevent blood from going to their brain.
Long-legged Bat Range Map
These bats prefer to roost in barks of trees, crevices in rocks, caves, and even buildings. They like to spend time in higher elevations in summer and then in winter will come down and live and hibernate in caves and mines.
Like other bats in California, they primarily eat mainly moths using echolocation. However, the Long-legged Bat differs because they get a head start over other bats! They do this by leaving their roost early, foraging before sunset, and then eating throughout the entire night.
Check out this video to see how the Long-legged Bat uses echolocation to catch moths!
#9. Yuma Myotis
- Myotis yumanensis
- Smaller bat, fur varying from dark brown to grayish. Underside fur is dull and pale. Wingspan is approximately 9.4 inches.
- Feet are large and wide, ears long straight and thin, short head and broad snout.
These bats are found in many different lowland habitats in California, including coniferous forests and dry scrub forests. However, they are typically always near water.
Yuma Bat Range Map
You will often see them in huge groups in caves, buildings, mines, or other structures.
The Yuma bat is an opportunistic hunter and is not picky about what it eats. They will consume whatever is most abundant in that area, such as beetles and other soft-bodied insects. Look for them flying over slow-moving water or by vegetation as they forage for insects.
Interestingly, these bats will sometimes use their tail membranes as a pouch to catch larger insect prey.
#10. Long-eared Myotis
- Myotis evotis
- Face and ears are black. The fur on their back ranges from yellowish to dark brown. The wingspan is approximately 9 to 10 inches.
- Long dark ears, which is how they got their name.
This bat is found in woodlands, shrublands, grasslands, and agricultural areas. This species leaves its roosts in rocky regions, dead trees, caverns, and buildings to forage insects in dense vegetation.
Long-eared Myotis Range Map
The Long-eared Myotis is active longer at night than other bats in California, hunting closer to the ground as the night gets cooler.
Unlike other bats in California, the Long-eared Myotis often turn off echolocation when hunting. Instead, their long ears help them HEAR prey the old-fashioned way. Click play below to see an example!
#11. Fringed Myotis
- Myotis thysanodes
- Smaller bat with long ears and a tiny face. The wingspan is approximately 10.4 to 11.8 inches.
- Light yellowish-brown or dark greenish fur and back and off-white on the underside, brownish-black ears, wings, and legs.
In California, you’ll find the Fringed Myotis in desert shrublands, sagebrush grasslands, and woodland habitats with pine and oak trees.
Fringed Myotis Range Map
These bats have a diet that consists primarily of beetles.
The Fringed Myotis has a fringe of short, wire-like hairs on the membrane between its hind legs, which is how it got its name. It has been thought that these hairs help it catch insects while flying.
The Fringed Myotis echolocation is different from other bats. They start by flying in a downward swoop and then begin to search for food.
#12. Pallid Bat
- Antrozous pallidus
- Larger bat with long, super thin, forward-pointing ears. The wingspan is approximately 15 to 16 inches.
- Tiny face with a pig-like snout.
- Fur is brown and creamy white by the root on their back, and cream color on the underside.
The Pallid Bat is the most unique-looking in California!
I just love its unique, pig-like nose! Look for them in habitats that consist of deserts, grasslands, canyons, and mixed forests.
Pallid Bat Range Map
Pallid Bats eat various foods, including both ground and flying insects, nectar, and scorpions. They like a balanced diet with their food buzzing, sweet, and spicy.
This loud bat is known to bare its teeth and buzz when frightened or angered.
#13. Spotted Bat
- Euderma maculatum
- Fur on the back is black with three distinct white spots. The underbelly is white.
- Tiny gray face with HUGE pinkish ears. The wingspan is approximately 14 inches.
This species has the most oversized ears of any bat in California!
Spotted Bat ears are unique because their ears roll up around their head when they’re resting. And then, when they become active, the ears fill up with blood and unroll.
Spotted Bat Range Map
Some Spotted Bats hibernate in cold weather, which means their heart rate slows down, and their body temperature falls to their surroundings. Other individuals will migrate to warmer weather.
Spotted Bats are very territorial and prefer to live in solitude.
This bat is one of only a few bats with an echolocation sound that is low enough to be heard by humans!
#14. California Myotis
- Myotis californicus
- Smaller bat with brown fur and black ears, wings, legs, and feet.
- Sloping forehead and a short tail that does not extend past the membrane.
Look for this bat in California in forested habitats in lower elevations. They roost in rock crevices, dead or hollowed trees, under loose bark, and buildings in the summer. In winter, you’ll find them in caves or mines.
California Myotis Range Map
The females and males roost in separate places during the summer but then reunite during hibernation.
The California Myotis flies slower and more erratic as it hunts near the edges of the forest or over water.
#15. Canyon Bat
- Parastrellus Hesperus
- Smaller bat. Fur color can vary from golden brown to reddish-brown.
- Face, wings, ears, and legs are black. The wingspan is approximately 7 to 9 inches.
The Canyon Bat is one of the most common bats in California.
This species is mainly found in rocky areas near water, like canyons, cliffs, under loose rocks and caves.
Canyon Bat Range Map
Since this bat is small, its most common predators are owls. But, unfortunately, these little guys also sometimes have to worry about predation from other larger bat species.
Interestingly, the Canyon Bat has been known to occupy rodent burrows in the ground if their habitat doesn’t provide them with sufficient shelter.
#16. Cave Myotis
- Myotis velifer
- Medium-sized bat with brown or grayish black fur on its back and a lighter color on its underside.
- Ears are pointed and short, eyes are tiny, and wingspan is approximately 11 to 12.5 inches.
You’d think the Cave Bat just lives in caves, but they also roost in mines, rock crevices, barns, under bridges, and inside empty buildings.
In the summer, these bats roost in groups of up to 5,000 individuals!
Cave Bat Range Map
Most bats have a well-developed homing ability, allowing them to leave a familiar place and find their way back. Unfortunately, the Cave Myotis doesn’t have this helpful adaptation. Instead, they use their sense of smell and vision to aid in finding their way around.
#17. Western Mastiff Bat
- Eumops perotis
- Fur is dark grayish brown or brown with white roots that are usually visible. The tail is very long and extends way past their wings. The wingspan is approximately 20 to 23 inches.
- Large ears that project over the eyes, which is how they got their name.
- Also known as the Western Bonneted Bat, Greater Mastiff Bat, or the Greater Bonneted Bat.
The Western Mastiff Bat is the largest bat species in California.
But their wings are narrow, which makes them fast but not good at maneuvering while in flight.
Western Mastiff Bat Range Map
Look for these bats in deserts, canyons, scrublands, and urban areas. These bats will roost in high places such as crevices on cliffs, which allows them to drop and launch into flight.
Unfortunately, they’re known to leave urine stains on cliff faces. So, if you are in that area and see colors on the cliff, now you know what it is.
Unlike other bats, Western Mastiff Bats don’t migrate nor go through any sort of hibernation.
#18. Allen’s Big-eared Bat
- Idionycteris phyllotis
- Large ears!
- Fur is a blackish and yellowish-gray color on tips. The wingspan is approximately 12 to 14 inches.
- Black patch on each shoulder and a patch of hair on the back of their ears.
These bats live in mountainous regions in southeastern California, located in pine and oak forests. They can be found at elevations up to 10,000 feet.
Allen’s Big-eared Bat Range Map
Unlike most bats, Allen’s Big-eared Bat can grab insects on surfaces instead of catching them mid-air. Their long ears help them hear the insects, and their wings allow them to hover and maneuver around more. They also have a thin jaw that makes it easier to scoop up prey.
Their guano (waste) is used as a source of fertilizer because organisms found in it are used for waste detoxifying.
The Allen’s Big-eared Bat is the only bat in California to emit constant echolocation calls.
#19. Pocketed Free-tailed Bat
- Nyctinomops femorosaccus
- Medium-sized bat with gray fur. Ears join at the middle of the forehead,
- Tail is long and sticks way out. The wingspan is approximately 12 inches.
- Skinfold stretches from the inner side of their femur to the middle of the tibia, which produces a pocket. This feature is how the Pocket Free-tailed Bats got their name.
The Pocketed Free-tailed Bat lives in the deserts of California.
Look for Pocketed Free-tailed Bats roosting in large colonies inside caves, tunnels, mines, and rock crevices.
Pocketed Free-tailed Bat Range Map
Like many other bats in California, they use echolocation to find their prey, and they catch them in mid-flight.
Pocketed Free-tailed Bats ONLY eat insects. Therefore, moths, crickets, stinkbugs, froghoppers, and lacewings are typically on the menu each evening.
#20. California Leaf-nosed Bat
- Macrotus californicus
- The fur is grayish. Ears are huge and rounded. The wingspan is approximately 13 inches.
- The distinguishing feature is the nose, which looks like a leaf.
California Leaf-nosed Bats are easy to identify in California.
Just look for their unique leaf-shaped nose and enormous ears. 🙂
California Leaf-nosed Bat Range Map
Look for this species in desert scrublands, where they forage for insects, caterpillars, and cacti fruit.
This bat is known for its short, broad wings, which give them excellent maneuverability while flying.
California Leaf-nosed Bats roost in large caves and mines. Interestingly, they have always been into “social distancing” because individuals avoid touching each other as they roost, unique among bats.
#21. Arizona Myotis
- Myotis occultus
- Smaller bats. Fur is light brown, orangish-brown, dark brown, or golden brown.
- Ears, wings, and feet can be either black, dark brown, or light brown. The wingspan is approximately 8 to 10 inches.
The Arizona Myotis live in deserts or forests in southeast California.
Arizona Myotis Range Map
During the summer, they like to roost in different artificial structures like buildings or under bridges. During colder months, they stay in caves and abandoned buildings.
Like most bats, the Arizona Myotis has excellent eyesight to recognize landmarks during the daytime when flying.
Sadly, this species has suffered a decline in its population due to humans using insecticides. In addition, these insecticides cause a depletion of fat reserves that they have saved up for winter.
#22. Mexican Long-tongued bat
- Choeronycteris Mexican
- Fur is longer than most other bats and can be gray to brownish and lighter on shoulders.
- Ears are the same color as the body, and they vary in size. The tail is short. The wingspan is approximately 14 inches.
- Leaf-shaped nose at the end of a long snout. The tongue is thin and long that extends to eat nectar.
Because of its long snout, the Mexican Long-tongued Bat looks incredibly unique! In addition, they don’t eat insects like most other bats in California. Instead, they feed on nectar, pollen from agaves, and fruits.
As their name suggests, these bats have an incredibly long tongue about a third the length of their body. Mexican Long-tongued Bats use this tongue to reach nectar deep inside flowers. Interestingly, some even visit hummingbird feeders as well to sip on sugar water.
Mexican Long-tongued Bat Range Map
You can find these bats roosting inside caves or abandoned buildings. They do not cluster together and tend to keep 2 to 5 cm apart.
Interestingly, they hang by a single foot, which allows them to rotate while roosting or perching.
Do you need additional help identifying bats in California?
If so, this field guide should be able to help you.
Which of these bats have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!